Jain: Beginner’s guide to zero waste living for students

Niki Jain, Staff Columnist

We often get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives that we forget to acknowledge and appreciate the world around us. We especially miss the small and simple things, which might seem meaningless in this complex, fast-paced society, but actually give our life purpose. Those who remember what day it was yesterday, probably know what “things” I am talking about. Those who do not—well, I’m talking about our home: the planet Earth. 

Earth provides us with all the resources necessary for our survival, whether it be the food and water that keep us nourished, the ground to build homes upon or the oxygen that we breathe. Without the Earth, we wouldn’t be alive today, so I think Earth Day is a much-needed reminder to give back to the Earth for all that it’s done for us. The best way to do that is by adopting zero waste practices that help protect the environment, thereby safeguarding the planet and ensuring its longevity. 

Some of you may be wondering: What is zero waste and how does it help the environment?

Zero waste, as the name suggests, is aimed at minimizing as much waste as possible. It’s not the same as recycling, because zero waste strives to eliminate waste while recycling aims to manage it. Recycling focuses solely on the end life of short-term or single-use items when they become trash. However, zero waste ensures that no trash is created in the first place by replacing short-lived products with ones that are designed to last. 

Currently, we reside in a linear economy, where resources are taken from the Earth and then disregarded as landfill. However, the zero waste approach helps in creating a circular economy where all resources taken from the Earth are integrated back into the Earth, emulating nature itself. 

Following this approach helps the environment in a plethora of ways. For example, zero waste reduces plastic pollution in oceans, which is detrimental to both humans and animals, as plastic releases toxins, which often end up in fish you consume. By minimizing the accumulation of waste, zero waste also helps combat climate change by decreasing emissions of methane and other toxins (linked to cancer) caused by the incineration of landfills. Additionally, it helps in conserving resources to accommodate our growing population by ending our “throw-away culture.” 

Many of you may be new to the zero waste approach, so no one expects you to change your lifestyle completely. However, I’ve listed some simple and cost-effective swaps you, as a college student, can easily make with daily items, which the planet can benefit from. 

Swaps for:

  1. Paper towels → Unpaper Towels (can get from Amazon, Etsy or other online stores ), old tea towels, rags made from old T-shirts.
  2. Plastic sponges → Loofah sponges, natural wood/fiber brushes, cotton dishcloths
  3. Plastic water bottles → Reusable water bottles (cheaper options available on Amazon)
  4. Plastic toothbrushes → Bamboo toothbrushes (cost-effective and a great way to combat plastic waste)
  5. Plastic wrap → Beeswax wraps, cloth bowl covers, lidded storage containers (for covering food and leftovers)
  6. Plastic straws → Reusable straws (come in various materials, such as metal, silicone, glass and bamboo)
  7. Plastic grocery bags → Bags made of natural fibers such as cotton, hemp or linen 
  8. Paper coffee cups → Reusable coffee cups, such as the Keep Cup (for those avid coffee/tea drinkers)